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Violence Against Women: A Public Health Crisis

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

Illustration of a Women hugging herself with a child in front of her.

As many us enjoyed this long Thanksgiving weekend holiday with family and friends, there is an important day which – likely – will fly well below the radar of many people. The day referred to is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women that occurs on November 25th.

The U.N. defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” Violence against women (VAW) is a significant problem requiring greater focus by the international community.

The issue of VAW has garnered its fair share of attention in recent times through the #Me Too Movement social media campaign. To highlight this matter, one only needs to look at the data from the World Health Organization (WHO). It shows that 35 %, or approximately 1 in 3 women, have experienced physical abuse in their relationships.

VAW does not discriminate based on age, socioeconomic status, education or geography. However, what underlies this problem on a global scale, is the fact that there is not enough evidence of this phenomenon provided by nations. For example, only 107 of 195 countries can provide data on “intimate partner violence.” Moreover, the issue of data collection is a problem as well as women fail to come forward to report such violence. There are 49 countries today that have no laws on the books protecting women from domestic violence.

What can be done to improve upon these numbers? VAW is a public health problem; there is no disputing this fact. In addition, it is a clear violation of women’s human rights. When looking more closely at the data, it is astounding that approximately one-third of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical abuse. Globally, 38 % of murders of women have come at the hands of their male partners. Research has shown that abusers possess a limited education, experienced abuse as a child or saw their mothers experience violence. This is not only a matter of criminal behavior, but also a psychological and sociological problem as well.

Several studies have been conducted to look at what types of prevention and responses to VAW are needed. The WHO, the global health arm of the U.N., is one such organization looking more closely at this matter. In 2005, the WHO performed a study titled “Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence.” The researchers sought to document the VAW issue.

There were 10 countries involved in the study which utilized population-based sampling. The countries represented a widespread and diverse set of nations from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. There were 24,000 women interviewed as part of the study.

The findings of the report confirm what has been known for some time: That VAW is a public health crisis that demands immediate attention from the global community. Some of the specific findings show that between 15% and 71% of women in a relationship have experienced some form of physical abuse. In addition, the areas under study indicated that greater than 5% of women suffered violence during pregnancy. Also, women involved in an abusive relationship were more likely to show signs of emotional distress.

The WHO report provided a list of recommendations for nations to take to remedy this tragic problem:A greater commitment to act by formulating a gender equality and human rights framework.Providing prevention programs.Increasing participation by the education community.Greater response by the health sector.Increasing support to women involved in abusive relationships.“Sensitization” of the criminal justice system.Appreciable support for research into VAW.Expanded donor support. The work of the U.N. and its partner organizations is essential to providing a greater understanding of the VAW issue. It also heightens public awareness. What is even more vital is the support of civilized countries of the world to stand up and pressure nations that condone such actions perpetrated against women. This kind of abhorrent behavior against women must end now. It all starts at the highest levels of government who will not tolerate VAW anymore.


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